Time for my Best Albums of 2011 list. I don't listen to everything out there (who has the time? or money?), but I listen to a lot. I hope my list will help you discover some new music. I'll give comment to the higher picks and I'm happy to discuss any of the albums, why I liked them, why some albums are not on my list, etc. Please list your favorite album(s) in the comments. Love to hear'em.
See my Best Albums of 2010|2009|2008|2007|2006
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Atlas Sound: Parallax | The Black Keys: El Camino | The Low Anthem: Smart Flesh | Other Lives: Tamer Animals | Panda Bear: Tomboy | Radiohead: The King Of Limbs | Sepalcure: Sepalcure | Smith Westerns: Dye It Blonde | Gillian Welch: The Harrow & The Harvest | Youth Lagoon: The Year of Hibernation
tUnE-yArDs: W H O K I L L | As creative as it gets, but not as good of a listen as some say. When I listen, it stretches me but leaves me somehow unsatisfied. I want to both celebrate this accomplishment and punch it in the face.
35. Girls: Father, Son, Holy Ghost
34. Cults: Cults
33. Real Estate: Days
32. Okkervil River: I Am Very Far
31. Washed Out: Within or Without
30. My Morning Jacket: Circuital
29. Explosions in the Sky: Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
28. Ryan Adams: Ashes & Fire
27. Crystal Castles: (II)
26. War On Drugs: Slave Ambient
25. Dolorean: The Unfazed
24. Ha Ha Tonka: Death of a Decade
23. Wilco: The Whole Love
22. The Pains of Being Pure In Heart: Belong
21. Glasser: Ring
20. Joy Formidable: The Big Roar | Running through thorn bushes at full speed.
19. Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues | Dancing through willow branches in slow motion.
18. Middle Brother: Middle Brother | Love these three guys. Love what they created. But I still like what they do separately better than collectively. That said, it's a great album.
17. The Horrors: Skying | Eerie flight. Bending notes. Worthy of both their name and the album's name.
16. King Creosote & Jon Hopkins: Diamond Mine | Fragile Scottish lullabies. Delicate & delightful. Pipe smoking. Peat beneath my feet.
15. The Roots: Undun | Concept album well conceived. Arrived late, but deserves much attention. Looking forward to more listens.
14. Beirut: The Rip Tide | Not sure they can make a bad record. Distant world flavor. Horntastic. Seasoning for a bland day.
13. The Antlers: Burst Apart | Please keep making music! They are doing amazing things, first through Hospice and now with Burst Apart. A wonderful follow-up to a crazy-good album.
12. James Blake: James Blake | Audio playground. A sonic dance. Ear candy...that's good for you. A blend of a powerful voice and eclectic editing and creative processing. It continues to grow on me.
11. Dawes: Nothing Is Wrong | Opening song, "Time Spent in Los Angeles," is one of my favorite songs of the year. I think I once listened to it 5 times in a row. Songwriting excellence. Lyric-driven rock'n'roll.
10. Decemberists: The King Is Dead | Their best-ever album. So many good songs. Thoroughly enjoyable. Completely accessible, yet it's well-crafted art and deserving of high praise. "Bear your neighbors' burden within reason." Singable. If you are weirded out by indie music, let this album invite you in.
9. Frank Turner: England Keep My Bones | Passionate. Straight-forward = says what he means. Atheistic worship songs, but don't let that discourage you. Redemptive themes throughout. It's incredibly informative, enjoyable, and artistic. Loud, but acoustically controlled loud. Sing-along with beer in hand. Punk sensibilities. Masterful. At times it's old-school Avettastic screamishness.
8. Low: C'mon | Some of the most memorable lyrics of the year are here. Some because of word choice, and some because of how they are presented. The critical calling out of "all you guys out there tryin’ to act like Al Green, y'all are weak." "I'm nothing but heart" repeated for 6 minutes in a slow, heavy, glorious swell. "Try to sleep" and "don't look at the camera" on the opening track captured by a wonderful, memorable melody. As a whole this album is a slow crawl... beautiful, often delicately heavy, and always unsettlingly moody. A haunting album that won't leave you alone.
7. Wye Oak: Civilian | Moaning. Longing. Power on the edge of letting go. Back-n-forth between cleanly crafted & fuzzy heaviness. Dark. Haunted. A sense that something isn't quite right in the world. Uneasy. Wonderfully disjointed at times. What you create after a disturbing dream brings you to your knees.
6. The Field: Looping State of Mind | It is looping, ambient soundscapes. Perfect for work, reading, etc. Or, and maybe more important, it's perfect for putting the headphones on, laying down, turning it up, and riding along. These steady slow builds and gradual descents are a joy to navigate. And beyond mere ambient sounds without structure, that can be a pleasure as well, these tracks are guided by heavy beats and basslines. So while the music soars, it also stomps, stomps, stomps along.
5. Josh Garrels: Love & War & The Sea In Between | Listened to this album more than most. Poetic. Rhythmic. Completely Christ-haunted and distinctly Christian, yet some of the best music of the year Christian or otherwise. I can't believe how little buzz I've seen about this album. It's really wonderful. And it's 100% FREE, which means everyone should be checking out and loving this album. And then you'll want to check out Josh's other albums.
4. Bon Iver: Bon Iver, Bon Iver | I wanted to rate this lower simply because I loved For Emma, Forever Ago so much. I need objectivity! Stupid me. While losing the romance of discovery of Justin Vernon's falsetto and magical soundscapes that came with For Emma, this album establishes his genius as a lasting force. I ranted last year on Twitter that Vernon should stop making side projects and stick to Bon Iver. My goodness. He did.
3. M83: Hurry Up We're Dreaming | I enjoyed M83's 2008 album, Saturdays = Youth, though I seem to remember finding it late. I was interested when I hear a new album was coming. I didn't know I should be this interested. It adds more soar, more lift, more joy to 80's shoegaze. It also adds more epic views of despair. It really is a masterpiece that I, so far, haven't been able to stop listening to. The first five songs alone are worth the price of the album. I wish John Hughes was around to hear this.
2. PJ Harvey: Let England Shake | A remarkable album. Disturbing. Poignant. WWI, war-time, yet universal at all times to the war-torn everywhere. Quirky. Odd. Rare. PJ's voice is a perfect kind of shrill (if there is such a thing) for these creative arrangements. On deck during a colossal battle, the siren of the ocean sings beyond view through the storm & cannons. The guts of dead soldiers are clearly in view.
1. The Poison Tree: The Poison Tree | Lovely & subtly massive. Cinematic. Baritone vocals. Literary. Charming. Moody. Introspective. Wistful. Barely wet city streets. Black and white. Hands-in-pockets. Collar pulled tight. Good penmanship, elegant words, antique fountain pen on an antique journal on an antique table in a sparsely decorated and lonely room. Life...experienced. Calmly dramatic. This album is almost completely and shamefully neglected. It's a rarely reviewed 2011 masterpiece. It's not #1 because it's neglected. It's #1 because it's gorgeous and brilliant. Please buy it...and be moved.